Peru is not Ecuador, and I cant forgive it.
I ended up here in a masochistic bus binge straight from Cuenca, to make up for growing soft and lazy in that fine city. Cuenca to Loja: six hours. Loja to Piura, northern Peru: eight hours, including a bleary border crossing at 3 am. Piura to Chiclayo: three hours. Escaping from Chiclayo to Cajamarca: seven hours. I drooled most of the way on a water bottle wrapped in a sweater, which was marginally more comfortable than my current hotel pillow.
My ribs are bruised by Peruvian elbows. They are world-class queue-bargers, and at the border I couldnt convince them it didnt matter, the bus was going to have to wait for all of us anyway. At 6 am in Piura I had to wake up fast enough to wrestle my backpack off the taxi touts, who could teach the Vietnamese a thing or two. There are no central bus stations in any of the towns so far, incredibly, and so you have to work out which bus companies serve your destination and somehow get to their office. There are three companies that go to Cajamarca, all at different ends of the town. At random I picked the one with the latest departure and got stuck in the outskirts of Chiclayo for four hours. When I ranted to the taxi driver that this made no sense, he said simply ´But the drivers need the work.
As one of the many market failures of Ecuador, I couldn’t find an up-to-date guideboook for Peru (or Ecuador—I ended up traveling with an eight-year-old Lonely Planet that quoted prices in long-gone sucres.) So I took Chris’s Lonely Planet to the photocopy shop, and flicked through the chapters I thought I might want. ‘Don’t bother to do Northern Coast chapter, from page 300 on,’ I instructed the guy, wondering why anyone would ever go to the Peruvian coast. Unfortunately, it turns out that this chapter included everything for about 700 kilometers below the Ecuadorian border, and I am now forced to wander, guideless, with a mutilated backpack, trying to find the right bus company.
In Chiclayo my glasses were stolen. This is no longer remotely amusing. My first day in Vietnam, they stole my glasses on the bus. The day I crossed the border from Cambodia to Thailand, I left my glasses on the bus. My first day out in Quito, my glasses were pinched from my bag. It was with weary dread that I checked below my seat on the bus this time, knowing that they hadnt fallen out, knowing that yet again someone figured the case was a wallet. My new-country routine is getting tedious: cross the border, cash the travelers check, find the optician. I am going to sue my fancy Park Avenue LASIK surgeon, assuming they can subpoena him on the golf course.
Gone are the gentle ´Buenos dias, señorita, I got used to in Ecuador. Here, Im followed by a steady commentary that makes me queasy, especially here in Cajamarca where there are few gringas to soak up the lavish attention. Every broken-toothed, sad-sack runt delivers his appraisal. Theyve remarked on my breasts, my legs, my backside, my hair color, eye color, skin color, my age, nationality, marital status, and of coursea givenmy guaranteed promiscuity. The tongue-tied just whistle.
I want to scrub myself clean. Normally, I am serene about this stuff. Like a good little Buddhist, I try to work up perfunctory compassion for their hard lives, their ignorance. I send interstellar messages of loving-kindness to their unfortunate wives via Radio Free Dervala.
Not today. Today Im simmering in a soup of PMS and theyre fucking with the wrong gringa. Ive learned how to make them jump with a well-timed bark.
´Póg mo thóin, a lúderamán.
This is Irish for ´Kiss my arse, half-wit, and tomorrow it will be replaced by something more choice in Spanish if my hormones dont abate before the Peruvians do. Or perhaps Ill just collect email addresses and forward every ´Is a Small Penis Ruining Your Life? spam Ive received in 2003. Thatll keep em busy.